Xavier Montsalvatge: Works for Orchestra / Marta Matheu, soprano


A quick query shows that the music of Xavier Montsalvatge is best represented on the Naxos label. Recordings prior to this release include some of the Catalan composer's piano music and chamber works. Performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Victor Pablo Pérez, this release is Naxos' first of Montsalvatge's orchestral oeuvre and it provides an excellent overview with compositions coming from three distinct periods of his career. Concluding the album is arguably his most important work, the twenty-minute Simfonía de Rèquiem (1985) with soprano soloist Marta Matheu's lovely singing gracing the final three minutes of the work.

Born in Girona, Spain, Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) was a major figure in the music scene of 20th century Barcelona. His music gained considerable attention around the world, to a large extent because it was championed by many of Spain's most prominent performers, including Victoria de los Angeles, Alicia de Larrocha, Montserrat Caballé and Pablo Casals.

Montsalvatge worked in many different forms, from solo piano, chamber music and art songs to ballets, operas, film music and orchestral works. Although he openly rejected the legacies of Richard Strauss and Wagner, whose music greatly influenced art music in Spain at the time, these two composers did impact his writing. More important, however, was a French influence and the music of Ravel, Messiaen, Roussel and Les Six - Auric, Durey Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc and Tailleferre. There's also an exoticism to much of this music that might, for example, meld Far Eastern sonorities with Catalan folk music, Antillean rhythms and French Impressionism. The composer writes, "In the contrast between consonance and dissonance, and between tonality and atonality, I look for an element that will light up my music."

The samples from the album available in the right sidebar are both from Simfonía de Rèquiem, and highlight the more serious side of his work; the other two thirds of the album are given to lighter fare, including the ballet score to Manfred and his final orchestral work, Bric à Brac. The performances by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, who have known this music since it was written, are superb, and Naxos contributes finely engineered sound.

Xavier Montsalvatge: Highlight from Simfonía de Rèquiem